Ever seen a huemul? A WHAT? A Huemul (way MOOL),
Hippocamelus bisulcus, that curious animal that looks like a cross between a horse and a deer on the left side of Chile’s national coat of arms.
Haven’t seen the “escudo nacional” either? Don’t worry, we’ll fix both those problems right here, right now!
Chances are you’ll never get a chance to see a living huemul in the wild. They’re pretty shy (and for darned good reason), and this is probably about as close as you’ll ever get, so take a close look. I spotted this one lurking around a dark corner of the Natural History Museum in Concepción.
These big-eared members of the deer family (Cervidae), also known as the South Andean deer, grow to a shoulder height of 35–40 inches and once ruled the wilds of Patagonia until they had to compete with human settlers who arrived in the 19th century. Their numbers have dwindled drastically due to human activity and the destruction of their natural habitat by deforestation, agriculture, and road building, etc. In fact, they’ve been on the endangered species list since 1976.
The few that remain today are protected in Andean sectors of national parks such as in Nevados de Chillán-Laguna de Laja in southeastern Chile from the 8th through the 12th Regions and in southwestern Argentina.
By the way, that little guy tagging along behind the huemul in the museum is a pudú (Pudu puda), the smallest deer on Earth—no more than 15–16 inches (40 cm) in height! I’ve actually even seen a couple—in captivity on family farms—but they seem to be more plentiful than the once-grand huemul.